Blue Jays vs. Cleveland: ALCS Game 2 Preview

Toronto Blue Jays @ Cleveland

Saturday October 15th, 2016

Written by Matt Gwin and Evan Peaslee

Not only was Game 1 of the ALCS unfortunate, but it was also the Blue Jays’ first loss of the 2016 post season. What’s more is that it’s a game that they probably didn’t deserve to lose. Early on against Corey Kluber, the Jays had him on the ropes. In particular, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion were pinging hits off of the Cleveland ace. However, the Jays couldn’t once bring any of those baserunners around to score, and ended with nine stranded baserunners on the night.

With that said, the ALCS is far from over. With Corey Kluber now out of the way, the Blue Jays will likely have the starting pitching advantage the rest of the way. On Saturday, it will be J.A. Happ vs. Josh Tomlin. On Monday, it will be Marcus Stroman vs. (a hampered) Trevor Bauer. Then, on Tuesday, it will be Aaron Sanchez vs. Mike Clevinger in a bullpen game. Following that, the rotation will reset, but (hopefully) the Jays will have won at least two of the three games, and the advantage that Kluber will have in his second ALCS start won’t matter quite so much.

Pitching Matchups:

First Pitch – 4:08 PM ET

J.A. Happ

Happ is coming off of a consistently inconsistent end to the 2016 season. Since August, he’s had five starts with more than a strikeout per inning. However, he’s also had just as many starts with less than half a strikeout per inning. In some ways, we saw that consistent inconsistency in Happ’s last start, against the Texas Rangers. He was locating well for the most part, and that resulted in a strong strikeout to walk rate, and zero home runs. However, his stuff was more hittable than normal, and his pitch mix was strongly varied from his seasonal averages.

In particular, per Brooks Baseball, Happ didn’t throw a single slider, and instead replaced the pitch with quite a few more cutters. Traditionally, the cutter is a whiff pitch; something with a similar velocity to the four seam fastball, but a little more bite. For Happ in 2016, that held true. However, what also held true for the pitch was a higher than average line drive rate. On the cutter, J.A. Happ gave up 42% line drives, compared to an average of 26% among all other pitches. While he may be able to catch a couple of Cleveland’s hitters off balance with the pitch on Saturday, he’ll have to make sure that the offering is at its best.

As for the particular matchup, there have been a couple of posts over the last week highlighting just how J.A. Happ, and the Blue Jays, stack up against Cleveland’s lineup. First, FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris wrote on, “Toronto’s advantage against Cleveland.” What he found is that the Indians have been one of the worst fastball hitting teams in baseball. Meanwhile, J.A. Happ throws more than 75% fastballs. Then, FanGraphs’ August Fagerstorm provided a counterpoint to Eno’s hypothesis, illustrating that it is high-velocity fastballs that Cleveland’s team has struggled with, not the somewhat lower velocity variety that Happ uses. It’s possible that velocity is driving Cleveland’s poor fastball hitting…maybe they can’t catch up to high heat. However, it’s also possible that it’s good fastballs that are driving their poor performances. High velocity tends to be correlated with above average fastballs, but that’s not always the case, as we’ve seen with J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada. Estrada seemed to work fine with his on Friday, and we’ll have to wait and see how Happ does on Saturday.

Josh Tomlin

Josh Tomlin is a decidedly average major league starting pitcher. His velocity is nothing remarkable, with an average fastball velocity of 89 MPH, and a peak of 91. He had an ERA of 4.40, just barely above the major league aggregate of 4.21. The high ERA is mostly fuelled by Josh Tomlin’s propensity to give up the long ball. Among qualified major league starters, he had the second highest home run rate, only below James Shields’ 1.98 HR/9.

The only thing that keeps Tomlin close to an average major league level, and away from being a AAA starter, is his control. Again among qualified major league starters, Josh Tomlin had the lowest walk rate, a marked improvement over his home run woes. Beyond that, his only other saving grace is a recent trend towards an increase in ground balls.

Against some major league offences, Josh Tomlin’s control heavy style might work. However, most major league offences aren’t the Toronto Blue Jays, who at 10.1% had the highest walk rate in the American League. That number was leagues above the next highest American League team, which was the Astros at 8.9%. The patience in Toronto’s lineup should be able to mitigate Tomlin’s zone heavy pitching style. A few home runs within the first third of the game will go a long way to getting Tomlin out of the game early, and starting to tax Cleveland’s bullpen.

Keep an Eye On

Josh Donaldson

After a slow September that saw his batting average drop 12 points, Donaldson is raking in the postseason. The reigning MVP is slashing an absurd .500/.522/1.249 with five runs scored and will look to continue his postseason dominance against Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin. Donaldson has a career .400 batting average against the right-hander, including a single RBI, albeit in just five at-bats. With his hip issues seemingly in the past this should be a fun matchup to watch.

The Use of Andrew Miller

Miller has morphed into the ultimate shutdown man out of the bullpen for Cleveland, providing multiple innings of work in the late innings to bridge the gap to Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw. After pitching 1.2 innings in Game One and throwing 31 pitches, it’ll be interesting to see how manager Terry Francona utilizes his lefty weapon. Only twice all season has Miller come into the game a day after pitching more than an inning. In both cases he threw less than 24 pitches in his first day of work. Having three full days off entering the ALCS, Francona likely won’t hesitate to go to Miller in Game Two if he needs him, but it’s a storyline to watch as the series progresses.

The Blue Jays lineup

John Gibbons is a manager who once he finds a lineup that works will stick to it until it doesn’t work anymore. With Russel Martin struggling all postseason in the five-hole, it’ll be interesting to see if Gibbons bumps Troy Tulowitzki ahead of him at some point. The man fans refer to simply as Tulo is batting .333 with an OPS of .905 including two extra-base hits and five RBIs in the postseason. Martin on the other hand has one solitary hit to his name, albeit a home run, and has an OPS of .350. Adding to the situation that throughout his career Tulowitzki has been a superior hitter to Martin will make it harder for Gibbons to stick to his tried and true lineup if Martin continues to struggle.

UPDATE: Tulowitzki is indeed batting 5th today.

Additions and Subtractions

Toronto’s ideal starting lineup took a big blow in Friday’s series opener with the injury to Devon Travis. Although cleared by team doctors to return, Travis lasted just five innings before re-injuring his right knee while running to cover first base. The sophomore second baseman looked dejected in his postgame scrum and it would appear that a return to the Jays’ lineup in the near future is unlikely. Travis will undergo an MRI to determine the full extent of his injury.

Taking his place will be the combination of Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins. The duo combined to hit .236 on the season and will be unable to replace Travis’ bat in the lineup. Defensively, however, both are an improvement on a hobbled Travis. If Game One is any indication expect Jays’ manager John Gibbons to play the matchup game with these two. Barney is 3-for-4 against Tomlin lifetime and will likely be taking Travis’ place in the starting lineup on Saturday.

Probable Lineup

Blue Jays


Ezequiel Carrera – LF Carlos Santana – DH
Josh Donaldson – 3B Jason Kipnis – 2B
Edwin Encarnacion – 1B Francisco Lindor – SS
Jose Bautista – RF Mike Napoli – 1B
Troy Tulowitzki – SS Jose Ramirez – 3B
Russell Martin – C Lonnie Chisenhall – RF
Michael Saunders – DH Coco Crisp – LF
Kevin Pillar – CF Tyler Naquin – CF
Darwin Barney – 2B Roberto Perez – C

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

The Blue Jays have the advantage in pitching matchups in the next three games, so taking Game Two will go a long way towards setting themselves up for a successful series. The key for them will be getting to Tomlin early and grabbing some hits with runners in scoring position. Something the offense failed to capitalize on in Game One, spoiling an impressive night by Marco Estrada.

Lead Photo: Charley LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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